Manning Overboard

Over the past year or so, I’ve gotten into some real esoteric music. Since my refusal of buying over the Internet means that sometimes I can’t find anything that strikes me at the local Record Hut, I have begun buying the weirdest thing I can find in the store at any time, just to test my musical limits. It has led me to a few great discoveries and a lot of things I’ll never listen to again, though I do feel enlightened after giving them a try. I recommend trying it sometime just to expand your musical horizons and to explore some different influences.

The album below, though I got it from a record company to review, is the sort of thing I would pick up during one of these binges. Made by a well-known engineer and producer, it is nonetheless one of the weirdest rock records you are going to find. I am not sure if I will ever listen to it again, but it blew my mind when I checked it out and it was a very, very interesting listen.

Check it out:

Terry Manning – Home Sweet Home
Sunbeam Records

Best known for his production and engineering work with groups such as Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, George Thorogood, Molly Hatchett, most forget Terry Manning was also a well-respected musician and sideman around Memphis for many years before making his name as a producer par excellence. Not that you’d know it from this album, however. Thrown together as a bit of a joke by Manning and some of his Memphis cronies for Stax Records, the album has a decidedly non-commercial air about it which, paradoxically, has led to it becoming a much sought-after holy grail of sorts for music aficianados.

Thanks to the folks at Sunbeam Records, one of the best reissue labels around specializing in late ’60’s early ’70’s vintage music, this album has finally been allowed to re-enter the marketplace. Those looking for transcendant rock music to blow their minds will not find much on this record, however. By making this album more for a lark than a serious statement, Manning ultimately shortchanged himself no matter what the interest is by seekers of rare discs. While Manning more than had the chops to come up with something infinitely more weighty and meaningful, the slapdash efforts to throw songs together smacks more of rushed desperation than anything else.

Begun as the result of a studio prank on the vocal group the Box Tops by taking their song Choo Choo Train and altering the backing tracks to sound like a psychedelic freakout instead of the regular blue-eyed soul the band was known for, the president of Stax Records heard the resulting acid-trip version of the song and asked Manning to record a whole album in that style. Hence, this record filled with overdone (waaaay overdone) pastiches of soul, country, rock and rockabilly. Though selling hardly any copies, the album eventually passed down through the hands of collectors and has become quite notable in reputation.

Weird and eccentric, the album nonetheless stands on its’ own as an artistic statement and there are some interesting moments, but the feeling of the album being somewhat rushed permeates the tracks. That most of the songs were recorded at the end of other artist’s sessions when there was spare studio time left over speaks a lot to how little priority was placed on this album. But, there is one cooler than cool artifact on this album that may blow your mind! This album featurtes a cover of a Beatles tune made before the actual Beatles tune was even released. It seemed that the Beatles had leaked some demos of their song The One after 909 before it was finished and the Manning version on this album contains a version of the song before the Beatles re-arranged the composition. In fact, some of the lyrics Manning uses in the song were later excised when the Beatles recorded their version.

Those interested in quirky rock music unashamed by lack of quality and purpose may find this record a lot of fun. Big Star collectors (it marks the first recorded appearance by guitarist/songwriter Chris Bell) and Beatles aficianados may appreciate its’ weirdness as well. It’s obvious Manning is a talented musician and maybe one day we’ll see a solo album proper. Until then, do with this strange artifact what you will.

I will leave you with this: don’t be afraid of any CD in the racks. It’s only fifteen dollars and it won’t kill you. Try something new, try something different and expand your taste. And, if you don’t like it, send it to me.

The Music Nerd Knows…… stuff!

Hoehn-ing In On Some Great Pop

I am back yet again to write about the best music ever created, if I do say so myself….and I do! I wrote this review about a recent reissue of forgotten Memphis power-popper Tommy Hoehn’s best album. With a new album by Paul McCartney not too far away thanks to a label owned by the very same people who help get me awake in the morning, I figured it was a perfect time to write about one of Sir Paul’s best students. So, here t’is:

Tommy Hoehn – Losing You To Sleep
Air Mail Records

Memphis has always reminded me a lot of New Orleans. Not only are both world-class cities with their own rich histories of influencing almost every aspect of the world’s culture from cuisine to art, but they both have a similar way of closely guarding their own, almost to a fault. Take, for example, New Orleans: there are stars from New Orleans that are worshipped like kings but are unknown, or long-forgotten, in almost every other place in the world. There are also plenty of other musicians who are virtual prisoners – so addicted to the way of life they are used to that they cannot succeed anywhere else no matter how hard they try because they simply do not, or cannot, fit in with the rest of the world and end up living in obscurity, despite their abundance of talent.

It is the same way in Memphis.

Though filled to the brim with people with more musical talent than they have a right to possess, there are also tons of the musically walking wounded – artists who should have, could have, had-it-but-lost-it, close-but-no-cigar careers – who just couldn’t conquer the hold (or curse) Memphis has on them.

Probably the biggest rock band from Memphis who should have made it but didn’t is the band Big Star featuring Chris Bell and Alex Chilton (formerly of hit band The Box Tops who had a monster song called The Letter). Influential to a host of ’80’s rockers but whose own albums sold hardly anything, the band remained a footnote in the history of rock until bands like the Replacements started namechecking them and covering their songs. Following up not far behind that legendary band in the Memphis obscurity sweepstakes is Tommy Hoehn, who has himself sang backup with Big Star (on Sisters/Lovers), and had been a vital part of the mid-70’s Memphis pop scene.

A master at McCartney-esque pop filtered through a Southern point of view, Hoehn was poised to break through big time in the mid-70’s when he was signed to London Records after the label caught wind of his first album, the enigmatic, self-released Space Break. Soon, he was hustled to New York City and given free reign to record his melodic but quirky love songs. The result was Losing You To Sleep, a weird little pop record that has a ton of Beatles and Big Star influences right down to it’s production. In this Air Mail Records version (a Japanese import) it is also paired with the EP that followed, I Do Love The Light, which is also an intriguing example of mid-70’s pop. Anyone checking out these albums and looking for the huge hooks of the Raspberries or Badfinger will come off a little confused as Hoehn’s hooks and clever wordplay sneak up on you only after repeated listening. But, when you do put the time in, you will be rewarded with the benefits of one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated pop records of all time.

Encouragingly, Hoehn is still recording today, often recently as a duo with fellow Memphis pop also-ran Van Duren who has also seen a career resurgence with an all-new solo album and reissues of his own older, overlooked Memphis masterpieces.

For his part, Hoehn deftly continues to make masterful pop and is a definite survivor who should never be counted out. Even though the classless inbreds who run radio might never notice him, I often hear his best work played on some cool satellite radio shows, webcasts, and Pandora. A truly cagey singer or band could take any one of the smartly-written tunes on this reissue (and any of his other albums) and probably get the hit record Hoehn deserved.

Anyone interested in McCartney’s ’70’s work and Todd Rundgren will find plenty to like on this wonderful reissue as the songs are all top notch with plenty of great performances. Killer Memphis pop, in a nutshell.

So, there you have it. There is a lot more to the story and maybe I’ll hit you with some additional info in the future (in the meantime, find the two albums Hoehn and Duren have done as a team, Blue Orange being the best of those) but for now, check out as much of the work as you can of the names I’ve dropped and I am sure they will provide you with many hours of fantastic music.

Blue Ash

Blue Ash is a Lost in the Grooves artist. Click to sample the music or purchase tracks from Around Again – A Collection of Rarities From the Vault 1972-1979. And keep an eye peeled to Frank Secich’s Blue Ash blog here at LITG for news, photos and insights straight from the band. This reissue (of a double CD first put out by the good folks at Not Lame) is just the start, as we’ll soon be digging deeper into the Blue Ash vaults for songs never before heard by fans.

Metal Mike Saunders provided this vintage record review for the Lost in the Grooves anthology:

Blue Ash No More, No Less (Mercury, 1973)

“I Remember A Time” could do for Blue Ash what “Mr. Tambourine Man” did for the Byrds: the start of a brilliant career, a Number One hit, instant mythology. The guitar intro lasts all of five seconds before Jimmy Kendzor and Frank Secich’s voices come in, oozing of everything the Byrds and Lovin’ Spoonful ever promised, the soaring harmonies in the chorus driving over jangling lead guitar work. It’s the sound of tomorrow right here today, it’s the perfect folk-rock single. It’s beautiful, that’s what.

This is one of the most spirited, powerful debuts ever from an American group. No More, No Less opens with “Have you Seen Her,” a fast rocker kicked off by four whomps on David Evans’ snare. This is the one that makes me think of The Who; the lead guitar is pure West Coast, though.

"Just Another Game” is the one quiet song, an effective tonedown before “I Remember A Time.” “Plain To See” is similar to “I Remember A Time” in the way its simple, compelling melody rocks out with vocal harmonies framed over a trebly Byrds guitar sound.

“Here We Go Again” follows, midway between the hardest and softest numbers on the first side. What’s great here are the group vocals on top of the tuff folk-rock cum hard rock instrumental sound; it’s like killing two birds with one stone, the whole premise behind the old and new Mod groups (Small Faces, early Who, the Sweet), not to mention the hard pop masterpiece known to the world as “Do Ya.”

By the time this album ends, there’s no doubt about it, Blue Ash have got themselves one hell of a debut LP that may send fellow stateside groups like Stories, the Raspberries, and Big Star running back to the woodshed to come up with music even better than their present stuff. (Mike Saunders)

Be Thankful For What You Are Tiven

Hope you all had a Happy Fourth of July! I sure did, and the resulting recovery from said celebrations have made me once again kinda slow on the draw here in blog-land and I am once again begging you to bear with me as I catch up.

After a few blogs about the genius of soul that is Don Covay, I promised I would hip you to a series of tribute CDs to soul heroes which came out in the early-to-mid-’90’s on the Razor and Tie label and Shanachie Records.

The tributes, one each for Curtis Mayfield, Don Covay and Arthur Alexander, were spearheaded by a rocker with Memphis ties, Jon Tiven. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, Tiven has bumped around the music scene since the late ’60’s but started gaining fame in the mid-’70’s as part of the Big Star axis. Although never in that groundbreaking pop band, Tiven played in other bands with various permutations of the members and also counted among his bandmates and collaborators unsung Memphis pop geniuses (and who I will devote future blogs to) Van Duren and Tommy Hoehn.

Knocking sround Memphis and later New York City, Tiven slowly gained notice as an excellent producer and songwriter, as well as artist in his own right. Many bands and artists have covered Tiven and his bass-playing wife Sally’s songs over the years and current albums by Ellis Hooks, Shemekia Copeland and Frank Black bear evidence of his song-writing ability and producing skills.

Back in the early ’90’s, Tiven started releasing these great tribute CDs featuring a coterie of great performers like Covay, Ron Wood, members of rock band Living Colour, Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Iggy Pop and on and on. Though they are hard to find today, I suggest searching them out if you can. The performances are all top notch and many feature Tiven and his band playing back-up.

I am set to interview Tiven soon and I will flesh out the story behind these tributes in a few weeks but I hope you endeavor to search them out and listen to them. They are possibly the best tribute CDs ever in a world that has way too many of them. The artists taking part are showcased well and the artists being honored couldn’t possibly have their songs lavished with more respect.

Also keep your eyes peeled for any CD with Tiven’s name in the credits. He is a throwback to the days when people cared about music and everything he produces has an authentic feel to it. Whenever I stumble across his name on a CD, I pick it up because I know I am going to like it. He has a great ear for new artists, is a great songwriter and has a cool little recording career going himself. An album on Rounder from the late ’90’s is especially good. Search that out as well.

The Music Nerd knows…..

“recalls Creem Magazine at its most prickly” (Eye Weekly)

"To point out that the staff at your local indie record store are about as tightly wound and implacable as the Taliban has already become a cliché. In contrast to that stalwart stance, Scram Magazine has become known for a distinct lack of smugness while digging through the dollar bins of history. Most pop-storians are obsessed with the failed, marginal and forgotten. Scram understands that the successful, populist and forgotten can be just as mysterious, and in this collection of reviews and essays, you’ll never be scorned by a pale, weedy boy for liking Terence Trent D’arby. In fact, its writers (including star nerds Jim O’Rourke and Rick Moody) will encourage you on in your bold and (un)original taste. If hipsterism is a temple built on Big Star and Stooges box sets, then Lost in the Grooves aims to tear down the walls with the clarion call of Kylie Minogue. Pop, after all, is about being popular, and if you want to understand popular culture, why waste time with Captain Beefheart when you can reassess Poco? Yes, the forgotten sons of California rock get multiple mentions here. But calling for a Poco revival isn’t the boldest thing in this book by far. Moody will have you reconsidering The Tubes, and Kris Kendall rights the wrongs dealt to the Dream Warriors by both industry and history. Unlike some music writing, these reviews are carefully written — as opposed to sounding like rewritten press releases — and recall Creem Magazine at its most prickly and acid. Should the comparison not be apparent to the reader, excerpts from Creem are reprinted, wink-and-nod-like, throughout its pages. Walk away right now and go back to your mid-period Sonic Youth records if you think this is irony. Lost in the Grooves is as sincere as disco and just as satisfying, providing a final home for music — from The Auteurs to Aaron Carter — that only wanted to be loved. Maybe that’s the pop difference; music that isn’t too cool to say "I love you." Do you have the balls to say it back? (Brian Joseph Davis, Eye Weekly, 12/02/04)